Alfons Maria Mucha (24 July 1860 – 14 July 1939), known as Alphonse Mucha, was a Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist, known best for his distinct style. He produced many paintings, illustrations, advertisements, postcards, and designs.
Born in 1860 in the small Moravian town of Ivančice, then one of the Slavic provinces of the Austrian Habsburg Empire, Mucha came of age in an era of nationalistic consciousness, a reaction against the increasing Germanization of Czech culture. As such, he saw art as a means of responding to his nation’s need for cultural representation. These aspirations were put on hold following his rejection from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Mucha was forced to earn a living as an apprentice scene painter in Vienna, and then as a portrait painter in the Moravian town of Mikulov. His talents eventually caught the eye of two local counts, whose patronage allowed him to gain formal training in Munich, and later in Paris.
Mucha’s instantly recognizable works feature beautiful women with long tendrils of hair and flowing garments surrounded by decorative botanical motifs in delicate shades of peach, gold, ochre, and Nile green. He originally found fame via his stunningly original poster designs for the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt, but is best known today for his innovative advertisements, posters, and decorative works. Mucha resented his work’s formal association with Art Nouveau, which to him represented a uniquely contemporary—rather than timeless—movement. The ubiquitous use of the poster in the late 19th century was instrumental in popularizing an aesthetic that, to many, became known simply as “le style Mucha.”
Mucha remained devoted to his native country all his life and in the 1920s created a magnificent set of murals about the glory and history of the Czech people.